Is there anything more exciting than the first day of school? Perhaps there is an argument to be made that the last day of school has some charm but I think that all of the wonderful routines that you learn when you are in your first days in the classroom – having a cubby, sitting down for circle time, having a snack together, painting with poster paints – are so precious and I am feeling a bit nostalgic. I’m overly sentimental about my own first day of school and for the days when it happened to our kids. I can fix this feeling. I’ll fix it with a quick trip out for some fancy pencils and a dashing new pencil case.
What can you do if your little person isn’t so keen on the first day of school? You should come to the library, of course! The library is your perfect resource for helping to make a child feel a bit more comfortable about going to school for the first time. Attending our free programs could help them get used to being with other children, learn all about sharing and taking turns, having the chance to try sitting quietly (well, the level of sound depends on the program, some of our children’s programs are vibrant and filled with movement and music) and listen to an adult who is not their parent or caregiver. With so many different programs being offered each season you will be sure to find something that catches your interest and you can pick up some books for your children and yourself while you are here. Bonus.
And while we talk books, well, the books are lovely any time of year but the little books that publishers start sending out in advance of the beginning of the school year are particularly beautiful. Filled with images of classrooms, smiling faces, yellow school buses and vibrant lunch bags – these are just the cream of the crop in picture books. And then they get those kids busy making crafts out of shiny apples and construction paper or have them sitting in a circle while they learn to read or count? It’s like all of the best things in one book with gorgeous illustrations included. Just have a look at the new back-to-school books on our shelves and see if you aren’t tempted to take two or three home with you the next time you visit. Here are a few of my recent favourites from this year’s ‘crop’.
Rhyming books are so much fun and All Are Welcome is both the title and the refrain of this colourful book from Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. The endpapers of the book begin and end with families dropping off and picking up their kids from school (it even includes a yellow cab which is perfect for what looks like it might be a school in New York – as if this book might have been set right on Sesame Street) and the children busily create art, whisper, share school supplies, and build friendships. Children are dressed in every possible pattern and their heads are covered in baseball caps, with one boy wearing a kippah and a girl in a hijab, others sporting braids and bright ribbons so each page is a rainbow of colour with smiling faces (some children are accurately missing front teeth). It’s fabulously true to a real JK/SK classroom. Each page illustrates one verse of the poem: “In our classroom, safe and sound./Fears are lost and hope is found./Raise your hand, we’ll go round./ All are welcome here.” The children are charming but I think the best page of all is their little science fair where they display a dinosaur project, sticky green slime, the classic volcano and a bug collection with some of the insects on the loose! There is so much to see on every page. This is a book worth checking out more than once and the page featuring their potluck celebration will make your mouth water. Everyone will want to attend their friendly school.
Hello School! should be required reading for anyone who wants to remember what it is like to be in school or is just about to be in a busy classroom. From the moment that these kids step onto the pages they are bright and authentic – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such sweet expressions in a picture book and the things that they say in their little speech bubbles? Oh, it is so sweet. Their teacher is aptly named Mrs. Friend and these kids are ready to be friends right away with an enthusiasm to share and express their feelings, saying things like “Kevin is hibernating TOO LOUD” on the page about Quiet time. I know that I have heard kids talk like this in a classroom and I could picture that scene happening. The book goes step by step through the children visiting their new cubbies, sitting in a circle, snacking, counting and talking about the seasons but the strength of this book is in how the author makes it seem like this is a real little classroom filled with kids who love their school. It’s a welcoming book that should make kids feel like a classroom is the place to be.
The Secret Life of Squirrels: Back to School! is the story of Mr. Peanut’s good friend Miss Rosie and her very busy time in getting the classroom all ready for school. Nancy Rose has done another top-notch job at getting her backyard squirrels to look like they are participating in the activities she then writes about on each page. It’s a darling concept every time she publishes a new book and this one has Rosie hanging a welcome banner for her little students, placing name tags on desks, setting out sports equipment for gym class and visiting other squirrel teachers as they get ready for their new school year. Squirrel teachers. It is so good. The miniature calculators, school bags, paint brushes and desks are adorable and it’s wonderful to know that the author, Nancy Rose, sets up the vignettes and just waits for the little squirrels to come visit. This book is one of those treasures that could be looked at over and over while you plan your first day of school or think back to school days of the past.
When you finish looking at our newest back-to-school books remember that you will find many encouraging titles from seasons of the past on our shelves. Don’t forget that favourite characters like Franklin, Spot, and Clifford have featured in classic stories that will help to prompt conversations about what happens in a classroom. Library staff have so many suggestions about their personal favourites on the shelves and can lead you to resources that are designed specifically for parents so everyone will go home happy from a visit to the library. We won’t be able to give you a new pencil case but we can do almost everything else to get you ready for the first day of school.